Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On Their Way

Four more empty chrysalis skins. Four more Monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico.

I discovered this beautiful lady resting among the watermelon leaves yesterday morning, perhaps only just barely able to flutter there after fully opening her wings.

Just one green chrysalis left hanging on the porch wall. It seems to bulge a bit in certain places. Maybe tomorrow the last will be on its way.
Partially opened wings reveal their rich color.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slipping into the Fall

First radishes of the Autumn garden.These aren't sweet little radishes, they have a spicy kick. They'll battle with the mustard greens in my lunch time salads.
Kale is in the forecast, looming large, nearly bursting through the white row cover low tunnel.

Yesterday I worked on the patch containing lettuce, Napa cabbage and bok choy. Some of the rows were crowded in spots. So I thinned a bit, carefully digging up some of the extras and replanting them in bare spots in the rows. And I replanted seed (again) in the half of the lettuce row that never germinated. I'm hoping for better luck now that it's a bit cooler and, perhaps, a bit damper.

Heavy rain washed the wood chip mulch
in my garden paths, exposing the black
plastic landscape fabric beneath.
That allowed me to use up what was left of three packets of lettuce seed that got left out in the rain. On Thursday night we got nearly 3.5 inches of rain, at least half of it falling in 45 minutes or an hour. The chipped wood mulch on the garden paths washed badly in the heavy downfall. After the rain lightened a little, I headed to bed, grateful to lay my sleepy head on my pillow. As I relaxed into my bed my brain fell on a forgotten fact: I had taken a basket containing seeds that I intended to plant out to the garden early that evening, but spent my time out there on other tasks. The basket did not get brought back inside.

So I pulled myself out of bed and grabbed an umbrella. The basket and its contents were soaked, caked with mud on the bottom. I pulled out some newspaper and opened the soggy seed packets, emptying them onto the newspaper. Surprisingly, a lot of the seed was still dry. But it's all going to get planted, just to make sure it doesn't deteriorate from dampness. So there will be lots more radishes and salad greens in the fall/winter garden.

Summer vegetables continue providing bounty. My freezers are nearly full, meaning I must find some other way to preserve the crops. Tomatoes shrivel in the dehydrator and the stash of canning jars thins as I frantically make vinegar pickles with cucumbers, green beans and long beans.

In the south garden, a hill of summer squash grows, showing its first little scalloped fruit. Squash bugs took out all the other squashes planted earlier -- mercilessly taking down very young plants. I commiserated with a grower at the farmers market one Saturday and she said they usually plant a crop, then later plant another crop well away from the first. The first crop gets wiped out once the squash bugs overtake it, and the second crop is safe -- for a while. So I planted what was left of my summer squash seed in the south garden, probably 100 feet away from the north garden plot. I planted them near some healthy datura plants that had "volunteered" there, hoping its fragrance would overpower the scent of the squash plants. So far, so good. Doesn't this baby squash look lovely?

Monarch watch: Two beauties have flown, leaving behind the empty chrysalis skins. Another chrysalis has darkened, I hope as another butterfly prepares to emerge. Several green jeaw

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Miraculous Jewels

<<<<<This is a miracle in progress.
From tiny little egg, to plant-devouring caterpillar, to this exquisite jewel of a chrysalis, this is a miracle in progress. In a week or so, the green skin will split and a regal black and orange Monarch butterfly will emerge.

But that's only part of the miracle. The Monarch adults emerging now will live much longer than the usual three to five weeks. They will take to the air for a flight covering thousands of miles, heading toward the mountains of Mexico, where they will spend the winter. In the spring, those that survived will head north, laying eggs all along the way. We might see Monarchs during the summer, as adults pass through and as their offspring metamorphose and follow their parents. Most of the original butterflies will not make it all the way to their northern origins. However, each female lays and average of 100 to 300 eggs (and up to 1,000), so plenty of young ones will follow.

For the past week or so, I've often encountered the black, white and yellow-green striped Monarch larvae heading down our sidewalk on the way to a suitable spot to pupate (create a chrysalis and make the "big change." Now, more than half a dozen of these gems adorn the siding on our front porch.
One caterpillar left on the stripped milkweed.

They've chosen that location because it is quite close to a patch of tropical milkweed that I planted in the spring. The plants are now mere skeletons, having been stripped of every leaf and flower by the voracious caterpillars.

Unlike other instances, I'm not complaining of about these garden plants being devoured by some critter. I put the milkweeds there expressly for the purpose of serving as food for Monarch larvae. They feed exclusively on milkweeds, taking on the toxic cardiac glycosides within the plant, which in turn makes them poisonous to other critters that might eat them -- at least to birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals. Other insects, viruses and bacteria are not daunted by the toxins.

Something apparently affected a few of the caterpillars that crawled up our porch wall, as they turned black and shrivelled after attaching themselves with a little patch of white silk.

Clouds of thousands of Monarch butterflies can sometimes be seen as they head south during the fall migration. But their numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years. Overuse of pesticides, possibly GMO crops, and particularly the loss of milkweed populations, as well as numerous other factors, have all contributed to their decline. During the southward migration, Monarch Watch leads tagging efforts for study of these butterflies' routes and longevity of individuals. This weekend, the local Monarch Watch waystation will host an open house with a tour of the butterfly garden, numerous activities, all kinds of weird insects on display, tagging of Monarchs in the butterfly house, and, of course, a display of the butterflies and their larvae. It's a great time for kids. Our granddaughters got a lot of joy out of being allowed to handle Monarch and other butterfly larvae during the event two years ago.

We can help bring back the Monarchs by planting milkweeds, particularly species of the genus Asclepias to give the larvae a place to dine. Many other sorts of nectar producing flowers that bloom during the migratory seasons will provide sustenance to the adults making the arduous journey.

Why is it important to save the Monarchs?

If you've ever seen thousands of them resting in a tree during migration, or simply watched one flutter by and been awed by the beauty, you would know.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Rainbows for Dinner

Nasturtiums and garlic chives add flavor and beauty to any ordinary meal.
The best thing about July through September is the wide variety off foods available fresh from the garden.

The Solonacea family -- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillas, and probably others I'm not thinking about -- really come into their own by late July. Cucumbers flow off the vines in a veritable torrent. It's pickle season! If I've manage to hold back the tide of squash bugs, summer squash is on the menu. Green beans, long beans, red raspberries, the second wave of blackberries, pears, early apples, peaches, melons... along with summer arrives a rainbow of luscious foods.

Rainbows -- pots of gold and leprechauns, unicorns, fairy tales, the end of the storm and hope for calm weather, and your diet. When you go looking for information on a healthful diet, a common theme is "eat a rainbow." Choose foods or a wide variety of color -- yellows, oranges, reds, greens, blue/black -- every day to obtain a wide variety of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. That means eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day, not just the same thing.

Pea and bean blossoms add a pea-like flavor to meals. Or when the arugula
or kale flowers, toss them into the salad, too.
We do eat "the same thing" for lunch pretty much every day. The meal consists of a colorful array of fresh, in-season vegetables. And flowers. Many flowers are not just edible (meaning, non-toxic), but add a bit of flavor along with the color. While adding a few colorful flowers to our salads might not add lots of phytonutrients (which are tied to the substances that create the colors in plants), but our thought is that every little bit counts.

And what else can make an ordinary salad extraordinary and exotic than a few flowers tossed among the veggies or scattered across the top.

At this time of year nasturtiums rule the garden. I planted them among the vegetables to make use of otherwise bare space and so I can have a plentiful variety of colors, from creamy white to deep red, with lots of yellow and orange in between. Nasturtiums are fairly easy to grow, especially in the richer soil of a vegetable garden, and beautiful. The leaves are edible, as well as the flowers and immature seed pods. They provide a spicy pop to salads, and have a deep enough flower to stuff with small amounts of guacamole, cream cheese, etc.
Tulips are on the edible list. Remove the pistil and
stamens found in the center.

During an herb study meeting I learned that you can eat many more garden flowers than I knew. Learning that you can eat gladiolus really excited me. They add such an exotic flair when laid across the top of a salad or used as an edible garnish for any dish. They "taste like lettuce" according to one publication, meaning they have a very mild flavor but crispy texture. Chives and garlic chives also make lovely additions to meals, adding oniony and garlicky flavors, when tossed into a salad or strewn across the top of another dish. Dandelion blossoms,  sunflower petals, immature sunflower buds (cooked like artichokes), rose petals, daylilies, redbud flowers, pansies and other violas including wild violets, and the flowers of virtually every culinary herb (sage, thyme, etc.) can be used, as well as many others.

The Colorado State University Extension Web site has a nice list of edible flowers. The Thompson and Morgan online catalog also has a good list with some descriptions of flavor how to use. Don't eat any flower that you can't find on an "edible" list. At best they taste nasty, at worst they could be toxic. Check out the edible lists and look at the flower garden with a new eye. Then make each meal a veritable rainbow -- without the unicorns, but with the pot of gold in beauty, flavor and nutrition.

Monday, July 13, 2015

July in Kansas

All I need to do is look at the weather forecast to know that it is July in Kansas.

We all may be grumbling about today's "excessive heat" warning, and the fact that the highs for the rest of the week are in the low to mid-90s, but that is what you expect in the middle of July in Kansas. At least we've recently had rain. This is the first week this summer that every day has a forecast high in the 90s. We should count ourselves lucky.

Grayhead coneflower.
In the meantime, broccoli and lettuce seeds I planted in little pots on Friday are already sprouting on the porch. In a couple of weeks I will move them to a semi-shaded spot that gets a bit more intense sunlight, so they can get strong and stocky before I plant them in the garden the middle of next month. It seems a little nuts to be planting cool-loving crops when we are hitting the highest heat of the season, but it's now or never if you want fall broccoli and cabbage and kale, that will just get sweeter with a bit of frost.

Yes, I'm thinking of frost as the high temperature climbs steadily toward 100 and the highest chance of rain for the next week is just 30 percent. My rain tanks are full and the hoses are at ready. Today I planted more bush beans so we can have more tender green beans in a couple of months. Beans don't take as kindly to frost as the brassicas, but we should get a good crop of them before we need to worry about frost. When I plant my baby broccoli in the garden I'll also start planting seeds of radishes, lettuce, spinach, bok choy and probably some other things I've forgotten. Carrots and beets get planted now, as well. If you plan to protect them with plastic once frosty weather sets in, you may plant some of these things just a bit later. One year my radishes, carrots and beets under cover continued to grow well into November, maybe even December. Once the carrots and beets are grown, they can be protected by a thick layer of mulch and harvested until the ground freezes.

When planting cool-season crops in the heat of summer, water water water and a little shade are the things to remember. I recently bought more soaker hoses and really need to order some drip irrigation supplies. I should already have my drip irrigation system in, but 10 inches of rain during the last two weeks of May, and continued rain in the first couple of weeks of June made it seem like a task that could wait, especially when weeds are taking over everything. Even though we've recently had rain (more than 3 inches just last week) the high heat tells me I really need to put some serious thought into the drip irrigation system. I'll be spending the next few afternoons indoors, so that's top of my list (after all these phone calls I've got to make today).

Baby watermelons! Summer squash! Tomatoes!

Writing about freezing weather, frost and late-season vegetables hasn't dried up the sweat at all. It's still HOT outside, but thinking about the timing of it all makes autumn seem much closer than I'm ready for it to be. So I'll think about all the lovely things about July. Like peaches! They're little but abundant this year. I'm picking them hard but with a red red blush and hoping they ripen and don't rot on the counter. Sun Gold tomatoes -- sunny flavor and juicy -- and cucumbers finally started. The daily salads change their character.

Next month our summer apples will fill the baskets, Then more apples over the next couple of months. Gladiolus, zinnias, phlox and many wildflowers bloom right now, with extra color added by the butterflies. The next six weeks will seem long as the days are hot, sunny and dry. So September will be welcome.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer in Flight

I don't even want to know how long it has been since my last post here. Summer has been flying past at a rate faster than the speed of sound and I've hardly had time to catch my breath.

Music festivals, spirit festivals, gatherings with friends and families... strawberry season whizzing past at warp speed while rain falls and falls and falls and falls,.. bags and bags of strawberries in the freezer alongside several bags of snap peas and snow peas.

Sometime in May we noticed a couple of cardinals building a nest in the potted bay tree on our front porch. It seemed like a wise decision, out of the rain and worst wind, morning sun and shade by late morning. I'd gently pull back the shade to get a glimpse of mama cardinal sitting on the three speckled eggs, her head at alert and her eyes wide -- one always on me. Did she really know I was there?

After two or three weeks of watching, tiny, fuzzy heads were visible in the nest. Two of the eggs had hatched shortly after the first of June. Blind eyes and gaping mouths, we were thrilled. About a week after the hatching we headed out for three days of music festival. The day after we arrived home, I took a peek only to find the nest empty of all but the one unhatched egg. What had happened? We can only guess. The bay tree had no broken branches and the nest seemed undisturbed. A snake, perhaps. Black rat snakes like baby birds.

Blueberry season has come upon us and is nearly through, as the rabbits continue to multiply. They've hidden their nests well this year, as I have not come across any fur-lined hollows filled with tiny fuzzy babies. They've learned that I relocate babies from the garden, I guess.

It is not unusual to see a half dozen rabbits when we head out in the morning or early evening. And they are bold little buggers. Two hopped up to the front porch this afternoon and I opened the front door to scare them off, "rawr." They paused and looked at me. I stepped out the door and raised my hands, "RAWR!" (Clap, clap.) They hop around the corner without looking too terribly distressed.

Anyone know the number of a good rabbit exterminator, like a bobcat family or coyote couple. I don't hate rabbits, but this is ridiculous and I'm tired of them eating the wrong things. If they'd just stick to the weeds, we'd be cool.

Yes, the weeds. The Weeds! Three weeks of rain and frequent weekends away tend to give the weeds free reign. I am slowly working my way through the weeds. I may have the weeding done by Christmas. Ack.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Yellow, yellow, yellow.
Spring emerges from Her winter sleep, dancing amidst a swirling skirt of sunlight and yellow.

The forsythia bushes illuminate the landscape, covered in bright yellow blossoms. Clusters of daffodils dance and nod, spotlights of brilliance among the new green. Even the lilac bushes are budding -- for the first time since I planted them several years ago.

Lilac buds.
For the past few days I've revelled in the glorious spring warmth, breathed deeply of spring-scented air. I've spent the days spring cleaning in the garden areas, pulling weeds, trimming back dead stalks from last year's growth, pruning out winter-killed wood from lavenders and sages.

The back area of the garden, which is still "under construction," has been raked and mulched and weeded. Three little aronia shrubs now grow at the garden's edge. One day they will grow large enough to screen the current backdrop of piles of black compost. A few things have been transplanted. Some elderberries have been cut down to make way for a small apple tree. Nettles hacked out of the garden paths make their way into my lunch.

Every day the garden holds something new. All growing things live at a rapid pace. Tips of asparagus show in the soil and soon will make their way to our dinner table, an early gift from the garden. While weeding different areas I discover plants I'd forgotten. What's kind of mint is this growing by the cherry tree? I pull a few small leaves, crushing them to release their fragrance. What is it? I taste. Oh yes, oregano. Now I remember planting it here.

Little pea seedling have emerged and I urge them on to grow quickly before something comes along to eat them. They grow at their own pace, though, and I watch them anxiously. I check the rows for sprouting seeds -- lettuce, spinach, arugula, radish. I feel even more eager this spring because I plan to take some of my produce to a small farmers market nearby. Grow, grow little ones. I want to feed the world.

And we've had rain, falling in gentle spring thunderstorms, brightening the colors to such intensity it makes my heart ache. My routine changes, emerges. The evening might be spent with one final wander through the garden, looking for the things I might have missed while my focus was intent on work. More daffodils blooming in the cutting garden. They join other bouquets of daffodils plucked the day before.

I feel the hard shell of winter crumbling, splitting, falling away. I emerge, dancing in a swirl of sunlight.